Friday, 8 September 2017

Jersey Our Island: One for the Road – Part 2

Published in 1950, this is an interesting snapshot of the Island and its customs as it was in the immediate post-war period, and not without humour. Most guide books of the time give the tourist information, or give the impressions of an outsider to the Island, but this is in "inside view", which is rarer. 

Jersey Our Island: One for the Road – Part 2
By Sidney Bisson

It was not my house before the Occupation. My mother and father lived in it until the Germans gave them twenty-four hours to clear out in 1941. The garden was my father's only hobby, and though we did not see eye to eye on what makes a perfect garden, I had to admit it was perfect of its kind. I am all for informal gardens, with bulbs in grass, and paths wandering aimlessly amid a welter of shrubs and herbaceous plants.

My father planted his bulbs in rectangular or circular beds, dug them up when they had bloomed, and filled the beds with summer-flowering annuals. His paths were straight, and when they changed direction there was a perfect right angle. I have even known him stretch a line across the lawn when he was mowing it to make sure that the bands of light and dark green which appear on newly mown grass should be exactly parallel.

Yet in spite of its artificial design, his garden was a miracle of colour, such as my informal plantings could never achieve. The shock of having to leave it aggravated an illness that he had borne patiently for some time, and he died a few months later.

The garden died with him. Returning now to take possession, I cannot trace a single geometrical shape. The grass verges of the front drive are ruts made by German lorries. The beds are heaps of stone and rubble. This forest of cupressus tnacrocarpa was once a neat hedge. There was a lawn where this open trench strikes across a patch of docks and dandelions. Convolvulus [bind weed] has taken possession of the vegetable garden, twining happily over a mass of wire netting, boards, and concrete blocks. The cordon apples and pears are still there, but their heads have swollen into enormous standards. There is also a globe artichoke, a holly that I am sure my father never planted, a lilac, a barberry, and a couple of worn out roses. The rest is weeds.

Looking at it from my study window I ask myself if it is better to renovate the garden or to write a book. Unlike D., who likes to finish one thing before starting another, I like to start lots of things and get on with one or other of them as the mood dictates. Mind training institutions call this the grasshopper mind and offer to cure it by correspondence. Why anyone should want to be cured I can't imagine. It's much more fun to knock a couple of holes in the bathroom wall to put up a towel rail one Sunday morning when you are in the right mood, then go out and dig in the garden when the mood changes, than to finish erecting the towel rail when you want to be gardening.

D. says the holes in the wall would fill her with shame every time she went into the bathroom. They don't. They fill me with pleasurable anticipation. One day, I think, I shall enjoy plugging those holes and screwing in the towel rail. When I'm in the mood .. . It won't take me any longer than if I had finished the job at one go, and I shall have enjoyed doing it.

So I expect the holiday and the garden will have to take turns. I shall not be dashing round the island every day for a fortnight and conning home every evening to tap out my impressions on a typewriter. You will find me sawing wood this morning (the Jerries have left a prodigious amount of odd timber about the place), pumping Godfrey for a legend this afternoon, and perhaps pulling up docks in the garden after tea.

Tomorrow, if it's fine, I shall make my first excursion. But Elizabeth Castle looms ominously near, and I can see the Minquier reef like a row of long black pencils on the glassy sea. As any old fisherman will tell you, it is a sure sign of rain when the castle seems close inshore and the `Minkies' sit up on the horizon. So my holiday may not start tomorrow after all.

Godfrey was too busy to discuss legends. He handed me a bunch of newspapers published during the German occupation and invited me to test my powers of observation whilst he went on struggling with what he calls his accounts. `Every night before the war you could see five words in your newspaper several times repeated. Jerry wouldn't let us put them in. Now he has gone they are back again. What were they?' When I gave it up, he offered a clue.

`Look at the cinema advertisements.'

Then I remembered. Long, long ago a friend of mine visiting Jersey for the first time asked me why the broker's men were in possession of all the cinemas. When I looked blank he pointed to those five words at the head of each advertisement : `By permission of the Bailiff.'

The Bailiff of Jersey, who has to give his permission before public entertainments are held, is not a sheriff's officer who serves writs. He is Chief Magistrate and Speaker of the local parliament (the `States') rolled into one.

The office dates from 1290, and before that there was a Bailiff of the Channel Islands. Originally an officer of the court who looked after the King's children, the bailli was already at the time of the Norman Conquest an important official who administered the King's justice, which is what the Bailiff of Jersey does today. And as the States grew out of the Royal Court, it was natural that the Bailiff should become their president.

Another of the King's representatives whose title sometimes puzzles the English visitor is the Viscount, who is not a peer of the realm. In mediaeval France the vicomte was a kind of deputy bailiff, who relieved his superior of some of his minor duties by dealing with civil cases of a more or less non-contentious nature.

He levied distraints, supervised the administration and division of property, examined the accounts of trustees. The Viscount of Jersey performs rather similar functions, though merely in an executive, not a judicial capacity. He is also the island's coroner. Like the Solicitor-General and Attorney-General, who are also appointed by the Crown, the Viscount has a seat in the States but no vote.' A ruling of the Privy Council in 1843 defined his functions in that assembly as being somewhat similar to those of the Serjeant-at-Arms in the House of Commons.

The status of Jersey in the imperial hierarchy is peculiar. It is neither a colony nor a dominion, but an `appendage of the Crown.' When Duke William conquered England in io66, the Channel Islands formed part of his Duchy of Normandy, and as such owed him personal allegiance. In 1204 King John lost all the Duchy of Normandy except the Channel Islands, which continued to regard him as their Duke. Their position in relation to the Crown remains unchanged. If you buy property in Jersey, '

The Committee of the Privy Council on Reform suggested that the Viscount should cease to be a member of the States. the deed (or contract, as it is called locally) names the fief on which it is situated, and as likely as not contains a clause that it is free from all encumbrances except seigneurial rights. And although you no longer owe any particular allegiance or service to the seigneur or lord of the manor on whose fief your property stands, he still owes homage and service to the King.

Twice a year at the Assize d'He'ritage, which is reputed to be the oldest land court in Europe, the seigneurs are called upon to answer their names. Service is only due when the King visits the island, and sometimes has to be modified to suit modern conditions.

When King George V came to Jersey in 1921 the Seigneurs of Rozel and Augres met the King on the quay instead of riding into the sea as is prescribed in the terms of their tenure. The Seigneur of Rozel, who owes the additional service of acting as butler to the King, entertained their Majesties to tea when they visited Mont Orgueil Castle. On this occasion a special Assise d'Heritage was held at which the seigneurs rendered personal homage to their Duke in the old Norman formula, Je suis vostre. homme le'ge a vous porter foy et hommage contre tons.'

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